Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Think Tankers Exploiting Loopholes in Congress's New Conflict of Interest Rules

Here is an excerpt from The New Republic (TNR):

I recently reached out to more than two dozen nongovernment witnesses who testified in the first eight months of 2021, contacted 14 House committee staffers, and analyzed all of the accessible witness disclosures online. I found that even the enhanced [disclosure] rules continue to have significant loopholes that undermine the push for greater transparency. It’s still all too common for think tank–affiliated witnesses to sidestep the enhanced disclosure rules by claiming they’re not representing their organizations but merely testifying on their own behalf, thereby bypassing the need to disclose any federal or foreign funding that might influence their testimony.

[New America CEO] Anne-Marie Slaughter is hardly alone in this regard. Three other witnesses affiliated with New America also claimed to represent themselves, not the think tank, in testimony before House committees this year. The same is true for many of their peers at other think tanks who have testified in 2021. This despite the fact that House Democrats, to better identify potential conflicts of interest, in January strengthened the rules about what nongovernment witnesses must disclose prior to their testimony, now requiring that they divulge their ties with all relevant organizations, including any foreign or federal funding those organizations received that is related to the subject matter of the hearing.


The article notes that the US House first adopted the Truth in Testimony rule in 1997 as part of a conservative led effort to identify witnesses dependent upon federal funding.  At that time, the rule only asked witnesses to disclose any grants or contracts they had with the federal government.  It was amended in 2015 to require witnesses to also disclose any foreign funding that they or their organization had received.  The Truth in Testimony rule was further tightened in Jan. 2021.

The US Senate currently does not have any rule requiring nongovernmental witnesses to disclose potential conflicts of interest before they testify.